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Montrose has a new bear in town

A black bear ambles into Montrose, stopping freeway traffic, strolling through yards and causing panic at a soccer game before being returned to the Angeles National Forest.

September 10, 2012|By Frank Shyong, Los Angeles Times
  • Tranquilized, the black bear that visited Montrose on Sunday lies in the bed of a truck before being returned to the Angeles National Forest.
Tranquilized, the black bear that visited Montrose on Sunday lies in the… (Los Angeles Times, Frank…)

The neighborhood was unfamiliar and the local roads confusing.

So like any wise traveler, the 300-pound black bear that sauntered through Montrose on Sunday morning headed for the freeway, prompting the California Highway Patrol to stop traffic on the 210 in both directions.

The bear strolled through several residential yards, caused a brief panic at a soccer game at Crescenta Valley High School and engaged in a short staring contest with a woman reading the paper on her porch. A sheriff's helicopter took to the skies as deputies and wardens from the state's Department of Fish and Game combed the streets.

PHOTOS: Southern California's backyard bears

Recently, bear sightings have become so common in the area that some residents have begun to associate the sound of helicopters with the animals.

"They send one helicopter for traffic accidents," said Pat Riner-Constantino. "They send three for bears."

Authorities said the bear was probably hungry. California's black bear population is peaking and their food supply dries up in late summer, said Kevin Brennan, a Fish and Game spokesman.

But this bear seemed easily sidetracked, loitering in front of a nail salon and even taking a lap around the track at the high school as soccer players and spectators fled.

"It looked like one of those movies where everyone just up and runs," said Lt. Brian Fitch with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.

No one was injured, and there were no reports of damaged property beyond toppled fences. In a picture posted on a sheriff's deputy's Twitter account Sunday morning, the bear is strolling down the sidewalk.

But all that walking made it thirsty. California Highway Patrol logs say the bear stopped to drink from a lawn sprinkler.

The visit upended the usually tranquil Sunday morning routine of the Foothill community. Montrose Avenue was choked with traffic redirected from the closed freeway, and for Bill Mulvoy, an usher at Holy Redeemer Catholic Church, that was the first sign that something was amiss.

"We don't ever get much traffic up here on a Sunday. It's a quiet neighborhood," Mulvoy said.

He paused, then added: "Except for the bears."

Bear sightings are a fact of life in the communities bordering the Angeles National Forest, but this summer, increased coverage of the ursine incursions has set communities abuzz.

A well-known bear nicknamed Meatball was captured last April in a Montrose backyard on live television after several trips into Glendale during trash pickup days. Meatball, who has been caught twice more, is staying in an exotic animal rescue site in San Diego County as officials try to arrange a permanent home. And two weeks ago, a bear was hit by a car on the 210 Freeway and limped his way to a Starbucks, where he was reported to authorities and later euthanized because of his injuries.

Word of the latest bear encroachment began at 7:22 a.m. when the animal was seen trying to climb a fence in a residential yard. Deputies triggered an emergency alert system that warned more than 4,000 residents of the bear's presence.

The animal's appearance on the freeway shut down traffic for about 10 minutes.

Lt. Fitch said the Sheriff's Department has been getting reports of bear sightings nearly every day.

Sunday's bear "had no fear of people whatsoever. Whether this guy is responsible for all of those sightings, we don't know," Fitch said.

A Twitter account created for Meatball, also known as Glen Bearian, has helped raise awareness of the dangers faced by bears that make repeated incursions into human society. If one keeps returning or harms property or people, it risks being euthanized.

Fortunately, the Montrose bear's stroll ended peacefully around 10:30 a.m. The animal was tranquilized at the intersection of Hermosa and Sunset avenues. Officials loaded it into a truck and set off for an undisclosed location deep in the Angeles National Forest.

Some residents have become protective of their furry neighbors. After Sunday morning services at Montrose Community Church, people gathered to discuss the sighting and expressed relief as word spread that the bear was safely returned to the forest.

"That poor little bear had about 15 idiots chasing him," said Idora Knuchell, 82.

Just a few hundred feet away from the spot where the bear was hit by three darts, the tantalizing odors of the weekly Montrose farmers market beckoned.

frank.shyong@latimes.com

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